I earned my BFA in Theatre from Marshall University over seventeen years ago. From a toe tapping Annie, Get Your Gun my freshman year to a senior project capstone performance of Alan Bennett’s harrowing A Chip in the Sugar, those years from 1994-1998 were filled with lots of amazing, uncertain, fun, and funny times. I was having a blast most of the time, but I was also learning some very important life and work skills. Below are ten things I got from earning a degree in Theatre.
10. Physical fitness: I’ll put twelve hour days in the scene shop and rehearsal space, near constant movement in both, ahead of any Zumba class you’re likely to find (though I hear those are pretty cool, too.)
9. Teamwork: You literally can’t do theatre on your own. It takes a team, and cooperation skills and people skills (not to mention conflict resolution skills) go far in nearly any field you may endeavor toward.
8. Empathy: Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and attempt to see life as they see it is a quality that seems to be diminishing in the real world, but it is at the very heart of the theatre. It’s why actors act, and why audiences are interested.
7. Friendship: Friendships forged through the process of playmaking are special and often long lasting.
6. Communication Skills: I once read a study about fear. A majority of participants listed public speaking as their #1 fear in life. Death was #2. That’s how skittish we are when it comes to speaking in front of a crowd. Theatre breaks down those fears, barriers. This is an especially important skill to have in a world where face to face communication sometimes seems to be losing to other communication channels.
5. No!: You’ll hear that word a lot. Your favorite director will not always cast you. Your renderings won’t always earn an A. And the manager at your part time restaurant job won’t always understand why you need evenings off for the next seven weeks to rehearse Blithe Spirit. Rejection builds character, and we could all use a bit thicker skin.
4. Multitasking Skills: At any given point you may be almost simultaneously sketching a costume idea for Amanda Wingfield, memorizing lines for a play your best friend wrote, and trying to decipher the meaning in a Samuel Beckett play. And that’s all on your lunch break before the work of building a realistic box interior for Hobson’s Choice takes up your entire afternoon. The adaptability required to do this will make you a valuable employee for someone, someday.
3. Imagination: Theatre people, by definition, never fully lose the creative spirit that abounded when they were little kids.
2. Self-confidence: I was a very shy kid. Exposure to theatre really brought me out of my shell. I’ve seen this over and over again in others, too. Increased self-esteem is the most direct and immediate effect of stage work.
1. A job: Since earning my Theatre degree in 1998, I’ve worked as an actor, carpenter, call center associate, political campaign manager, substitute teacher, theatre educator, playwright, college professor, and newspaper columnist. A theatre degree also provides an excellent background for law, sales, film, media, maybe even welding if you’re in a program like the one I came up in. Look up any job outlook survey that focuses on what skills employers are looking for (in lots of fields) and you’ll find a great deal of them on this list.
I have some other ideas, but these seemed the most important. What else should be listed here? Feel free to leave ideas in the comments below.